“I can’t remember the last time I truly felt happy. Will I ever feel that way again?”
I have been reflecting on the last two years of my life, and while there have been moments of joy, I can’t recall an extended period of time that I really felt happy and emotionally well.
When I said those words above to my partner he looked at me and said back, “Of course you will.” Lately though, I wonder how sure that can be.
Over the last two and a half years, we all have lived through our lifetime’s first pandemic, increasing racial injustices, school shootings, higher cost of living, civil unrest in our society and our world, and within all of that, I have been living through my own personal struggle of being involuntary childlessness due to infertility.
A quick background on my infertility journey so you are caught up to speed. I have previously been diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve, which makes it really hard to have a child the “normal” way of doing so. I have gone through three rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and tried a fourth round using donor eggs. Unfortunately, none of that worked for me and has left my partner and I living in a constant state of ambiguity, unsure where to turn next.
While I feel lonely on this journey, I think about the fact that I am really not alone as we all have been living in a constant state of ambiguity lately with our world as it currently is. It is really hard to live with not knowing what may come and not seeing your life roll out the way you wanted it to.
We also have to process that we all currently have some form of disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is defined as loss that is not socially sanctioned, openly acknowledged or recognized by others, and is not publicly mourned.
The pandemic has changed all of our lives and has taken away something from all of us, while this will look different for us all.
I feel my journey with infertility thus far has given me some nuggets of learning when it comes to processing disenfranchised grief and living with ambiguity.
1. Let yourself feel as you feel.
So often, we try to keep busy and keep moving so that we can become numb and not feel our emotions. While numbness is a form of coping and a piece of processing grief, you will need time to really allow yourself to feel what is going on for you. This can look like letting yourself cry when you feel you want to, giving yourself space and quiet to hear your thoughts and reflect on them, allowing yourself to get angry about your circumstances and sad the very next minute. It is showing yourself grace and self-compassion for the layers of feelings you have and knowing they are fluid and will change moment to moment.
2. Find your healthy forms of escapism.
Feeling our emotions is incredibly important but so is taking a break as needed. Enter escapism. This is doing something that takes your mind off of your current situation. My favorite two ways of doing this are watching reality TV (all things BRAVO) and reading mystery novels.
3. Know your go-to people.
Not everyone in your support system will be capable of giving you what you need during this time. That’s okay. Not everyone has to be that person for you. What is important is knowing the one or two people you can turn to who allow you the space you need to talk without judgment and unsolicited advice. It is also really helpful to have a licensed therapist you can talk to who can give you unbiased space to show up exactly as you are in that moment.
4. Remember who you are and what makes you you.
When we are struggling with disenfranchised grief, we can lose ourselves in it. Try to find moments of focusing on all the good parts of you—your strengths, values, what you like to spend time doing. Allow the cracks of moving through this grief to not break you down but to readjust and rebuild you into someone stronger and more resilient. Remember that this grief doesn’t define you; you get to define you.
5. Know that all things in life are uncertain.
We are told this all the time growing up, aren’t we? That nothing goes as planned, that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. That life laughs when you make plans. I don’t think you really feel this until you are hit with grief and disenfranchised grief at that. Grief has a way of knocking us down to our knees with the stark reality that we can’t control a damn thing. We can only control how we react to it and our emotions. Living mindfully during ambiguity and disenfranchised grief has been the most helpful to me. Having a practice of mindfulness and meditation has helped me to stay present in the moment and not jump too far ahead into the future.
While I am not sure what is to come for me in regards to having a child, I do feel solid in the sense of knowing myself and knowing that I can do hard things (thanks Glennon Doyle). I know you can too.
As for my question regarding happiness. Maybe happiness isn’t feeling joy all the time. Maybe true happiness is feeling as you feel in the moment and embracing it without judgment and hugging it with self-compassion.